“I want my husband to come back home, I’m six months pregnant with no savings. No one is telling me where he is, so please help me find him,” comes a distressed call from Amala, wife of Desapan, who ventured into the sea on a motorised boat on July 23 and has not returned since then.
Desapan along with his nine friends from various parts of North Chennai left in mechanised boats from the Kasimedu fishing harbour for deep-sea fishing. Of the 10 members, four were from Tiruvottiyur, three fishermen from Thirchilam hamlet, two members from Lakshmipuram and one from Kasimedu.
The 10 of them set out for deep-sea fishing for 10-12 days depending on the catch. But, on July 28, four days after they started their journey, the fishermen reached Visakhapatnam after which the network with the land went blank and no information about them was available.
The government claims that they are unable to find the fishermen while Desapan’s wife says that there should be transparency in the rescue operation. “The government is telling me that they are searching for the ten members but they also say that the boat is neither in sea nor on islands or the sand dunes. Where can the boat disappear? Please help me to find him,” says Amala.
Desapan, was largely dependent on the motorized boats that go out for fishing on a daily basis, but the coronavirus induced lockdown emptied the coffers of the family forcing him to go for deep sea. The couple also has a five-year-old son and Amala is six months pregnant with their next child forcing him to earn immediate money.
“My husband has been to deep-sea fishing only twice. Once in 2016 and now in July. I never imagined such a disaster would strike us this time. I do not know what happened to him or what to do. I am unable to even sit for protests, the officials say we will face insults if we protest but I want to find them,” she alleges.
The only sign of hope for Amala was the words of the Fisheries Director Sameeran that assured there was not any mishap in the sea. However, Amala says, “The Director also added it’s been long since the incident so the survival of the ten fishermen is doubtful.”
The bewildered and frightened Amala has tried everything from her side to find him. “I went to the police station to file a complaint on day 13 but the police consoled me and sent me back home. Now, I have given the police complaint and visited the Ministers thrice. They are making us wait for the appointment of the Chief Minister for the past three weeks,” claims Amala, “The information has been passed to all the jails nearing the coast. But even after all this, the government cannot find a missing boat.”
Amala is not the only person waiting on the shores for her husband but family members of many more fishermen are waiting for information about the missing fishermen or their arrival since 2013.
There have been many cases of deep-sea boats going missing since 2013. Bharathi, President of South Indian Fisheries Welfare Association, said, “Even last year a boat went missing and the officials were at least able to tell us that the boat overturned but this time there is no information from their side. We know fishing is risky and we put our lives at stake to do this business but at least we would want to know how a fisherman died to make us digest the death.”
"The problem of boundaries in the sea has also led to a lot of confusion. The State government has control for 20 miles while the Centre has control for another 200 miles. So the state has to wait for the permission from the Centre instead of pressing the force into immediate rescue operation,” said Bharathi.
The government officials, however, say that the mistake was from the side of the boat owner.
‘Boat owner tampered with signals’
The government officials say that the boat owner Balaji tampered with the transmitter making the boat untraceable.
The Fisheries Director Sameeran said, “The boat owner Balaji did not receive tokens for venturing into the sea and used 10 underprivileged fishermen to take up the risky journey. He also did not connect the transmitter provided by the ISRO. He tampered the wires so that we will not receive the signals and they can take up the journey. Balaji also informed our department only after five days of the incident.”
The government is planning to take action against Balaji, said Sameeran.
“The government is taking all the efforts to find them. We alerted the National Maritime SAR Coordinating Authority in Chennai and sent three boats and an aircraft for tracing the boat. In five days, we informed the international borders to alert them if they find the fishermen. But we have not received any positive information from them till now,” he said.
The government will check for another round of information and if the information continues to be negative, “We will book Balaji under sections of negligence and serious sections of the Indian Penal Code,” Sameeran said.